The Pentagon is devoting increasing attention to non-lethal weapons
programs, providing baseline requirements for future equipment,
senior officials said.
This most recent initiative is included in the first-ever homeland
defense and civil support strategy guidelines the Defense Department
will unveil later this year, according to Thomas Kuster, deputy
assistant secretary for homeland defense.
He is soliciting input from combatant commanders on what their
future equipment needs will be in protecting U.S. territory. The
blueprint, which got the green light two months ago from Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, will emerge as the foundation for acquisition
programs to support military homeland defense missions, including
Kuster said that once the recommended requirements are returned
from the combatant commanders, procurement timelines and an attempt
at coordinated purchases with other federal agencies would be considered.
He cautioned the process would be lengthy. The Pentagon’s
organization for homeland defense was created in 2003, and it has
taken steady effort through 2005 for these first steps to be taken,
Once the recommended requirements are returned from the combatant
commanders, definitions, timelines and outreach to other federal
agencies will be considered. Lags in capabilities will be noted,
and industry will have a better handle on which items the defense
Non-lethal weaponry is one of the core capabilities that commanders
must assess in the strategy guidelines. At issue are requirements
for future systems and a path to achieve them. “Advocacy for
non-lethal weapons has previously resided within the Marine Corps,”
he said. “There hasn’t been a ‘suit’ beating
the drum …to come up with a comprehensive approach. Well,
you have one now.”
He was referring to his boss, Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Homeland Defense Paul McHale, who is promoting a “fundamental
shift in strategy” in protecting the nation from terrorist
The goal, Kuster said, is to share the requirements cited in the
document with agencies across the state and federal spectrum, which
should tease out common needs to expand the procurement base. This
process is expected to stimulate industry to earmark time and money
into now-neglected research areas.
At the forefront of the needed research are novel non-lethal technologies
that may be well suited for homeland defense, Kuster said. “We’ve
matured non-lethal technology incrementally; not strategically but
by tactical imperatives,” he said.
However, the potential for strikes within the United States has
forced a change in attitude regarding needed gear—from riot
control equipment to defenses against operations by transnational
As an example, he noted: “How many non-lethal options are
there for National Guardsmen at Indian Point [nuclear power plant]?
Zip.” He added that homes are located close to the primary
access gate and within range of errant gunfire. Guardsmen were deployed
there following September 11, 2001 and remain as perimeter security.
Kuster is not alone in bemoaning the absence of non-lethal options
available to troops that are deployed units in war zones. Lt. Gen.
Jan Huly, the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for plans, policies
and operations, averred that advances in non-lethal technologies
are not keeping pace with other military systems.
“I was surprised and disappointed at the scant progress we
as a nation…have made in non-lethal capabilities,” he
said. “We are still relying on things developed 10 or 15 years
ago … We still have a rubber bullet and bean bag mentality.
Surely we can do better.”
The Joint Non-lethal Weapons Directorate, formed in 1996, has received
a recent influx of funds but still lags behind other defense programs.
In 2000, JNLWD received $25.8 million, $28.1 million in 2001 and
$24 million for 2003. In 2004’s budget, however, the previous
year’s figure nearly doubled to $40.9 million, and increased
again a year later to $45 million. The administration has requested
$43.9 million for 2006.
Huly complained that industry researchers were slow to take up
non-lethal weapons development because they saw comparatively little
money being spent on it by the Pentagon. The military, meanwhile,
is seeking proven technologies in which to invest, but finds little
offered by industry. The cycle of failure continues, which leaves
front-line troops with nearly the same less-than-lethal options
decade to decade.
Kuster said that once the guidelines are released by the Defense
Department, he hopes that industry players will make the necessary
investment to develop the identified technologies on the premise
that they will reap financial reward from a defined, emerging market.
“I think we’re at the point where we’re going
to break that chicken and the egg cycle,” Kuster said.
The requirements that are developed from combatant commanders will
be shared with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security,
and will provide guidance for state and local authorities. The goal
is not to set federal-wide requirements, Kuster said, but to broaden
the consumer base and entice industry into researching and producing
There are major obstacles to the proliferation of less-than-lethal
devices, that likely will require changes in policy, law and—perhaps
most importantly, he suggested—the way society regards non-lethal
weapons. Policymakers need to address and pursue these challenges
concurrent with scientific and industrial developments.
The military and homeland security responders require new non-lethal
systems, Kuster said. “Think about what happened in Beslan,”
he said, referring to the bloody siege in a Russian schoolhouse
that ended with scores of dead children and adults.
“You want the FBI to handle that the same way the Russians
did? How would we handle Beslan, if it happened here, today?”